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Posted 02 August 2017

How to manage your children’s tech use

Children and digital technology can be a minefield for parents, but with careful management, screen time can be a help rather than a hindrance. Tracey Davies talks to a children’s life coach, an author and some savvy parents for guidance on how to manage your child's tech time.

  • Remember, there are benefits to tech use
  • Think smart limits, not fixed limits
  • Try a family digital detox

Smartphones, tablets and computers are used by most families every day, whether it's for work, managing family finances, playing games or keeping in touch. Tablets, especially, have seen a huge growth in popularity in the last few years – in fact, around 59% of households now own one.

It's no surprise that parents often turn to tablets, and other devices, to keep the children occupied. However, too much screen time could affect a child's development and wellbeing – so to maintain a healthy lifestyle, it's all about balance.

Tracey Davies (@DollysDay), who has more articles you can find within our Love Life hub, talks to the experts.

Try a family digital detox

These days our lives are so tied up with technology that it’s helpful to step away from time. Liat recommends having an occasional or regular family digital detox, where everyone switches off for an afternoon, a day or even longer to remind ourselves that we don’t have to be glued to our screens to be happy. Why not coincide the next one with Playday, the UK's national day for play, on the first Wednesday of August?

Remember the benefits of tech time

‘Many people demonise tech use by children,’ says Liat Hughes Joshi (@liathughesjoshi‏), author of How to Unplug Your Child. ‘And while it has its downsides, it also has its benefits’.

The internet is a wonderful tool. We now have an encyclopaedic amount of knowledge at our fingertips – not to mention funny cat videos.

‘We mustn't forget that there are wonderful things children can do online, from researching a school project – finding answers to questions like 'why is the sky blue?' – to keeping in touch with distant friends and family,’ says Liat, who also runs workshops on unplugging for families.

A recent study showed that young children's maths, English and communication skills actually improved when they used tablets in school on a regular basis. The study showed digital technology had a positive impact on children's literacy and numeracy skills, and the use of tablets in the classroom even enhanced communication skills.

‘Technology can be both wonderful and a hindrance,’ says Naomi Richards (@thekidscoach), children's life coach and author of The Parent's Toolkit. ‘Children can gain fantastic information at a click of a button, but the downside is that it's addictive.’

‘It's all too easy to leave a child in front of a screen to play games irrespective of any benefit, and their temperament can change if they’re using it for hours.’

Managing your children’s tech use

We spoke to several parents with children of varying ages about how they manage their children’s use of technology.

‘I limit my five-year-old's iPad use as it can affect her behaviour if she's had too much time on it,’ says Sally Lawrence, a features editor from Ayrshire. Jan Farringdon, a teacher from Brighton, sees a similar effect, saying that too much screen time makes her eight-year-old son cross, especially playing games on the iPad.

But as children get older and more independent, screen time is not as easy to monitor.

‘My 16-year old son has just finished his GCSEs and he’s been on a tech-fest ever since,’ says Emma Dent, a journalist from Kent.

‘Safety measures must be put in place,’ explains Naomi. ‘Children should only access sites that are age-appropriate, and they must be aware of what they can and can’t do online.’

But often it's up to parents to monitor their child's tech use.

‘I allow my daughters (11 and 13) up to an hour of TV or tech a day, and then it's all screens out of their rooms by 8pm,’ says Cath Jurkovic, a nurse from Brighton.

‘I try to let the kids make their own choices and rules about use, with discussion, as ultimately it improves their overall safety,’ says Sarah Gay, a company director from Sussex, whose children are 12 and 17. ‘And if it gets too much, remove the plug!’

Think smart limits, rather than fixed limits

In her book, How to Unplug Your Child, Liat explains that babies and pre-schoolers don’t need to be online.

‘Interacting with grown-ups, other children and the world around them is vital to development,’ says Liat. ‘That said, don’t beat yourself up if your three-year-old is ill, or you are, and ends up watching CBeebies on the sofa all afternoon.’

For older children, Liat suggests thinking about what they are doing on their tablets or computers, rather than having a fixed limit for all screen usage.

‘If your son or daughter is playing chess on a tablet, reading a book on an e-reader, or researching something fascinating on the internet, you could be more flexible than if they’re indulging their current gaming addiction,’ she recommends.

Social media is a whole other issue. Recent research conducted by economists at the University of Sheffield showed that children who spend more time on social networks – like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram – feel less happy and have lower self-esteem.

‘Offline communication skills are very important,’ says Naomi. ‘It's key that your child knows when they can use technology, what they can use it for, and the duration.’

Like it or loathe it, digital technology is a part of the world we live in. By embracing it but managing it wisely, the benefits for our children far outweigh the risks.

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